With the world's largest artificial island, the biggest theme parks and the tallest building, Dubai doesn't do things by halves. Its ambitious outlook has evolved into a glamorous playground of attractions and activities for both adults and children. But Dubai also has areas for quiet times, where you can slow down, relax and see the history. Discover both sides to this desert city's unique personality with our guide of things to do in Dubai.
Take a Traditional Abra Ride Across the Creek
Head down to the busy piers on Dubai Creek to join locals, expats and tourists bustling for a seat on the next water taxi. These small wooden boats are called abras and have been used in the region for centuries. Around 20 people pile on at a time to enjoy the breezy journey across the water, with views of both old and modern Dubai that are particularly striking at sunset. For 1 dirham per person, it's also a bit of a bargain in this notoriously pricey city.
Go Shopping at Dubai Mall
Dubai has a reputation for expensive cars and designer shopping, and Dubai Mall shows you why. With more than 1,200 shops spread over millions of square feet, you could explore for days and still not see every store. There are big names, like Armani, Gucci and Dior, as well as well-known high-street shops and departments stores. But then there's also the aquarium, ice rink, cinema, a real dinosaur skeleton, VR park and countless restaurants.
Before you leave, rest your no-doubt-weary feet at one of the cafés to watch the Dubai Fountain show.
Drink Coffee Among the Clouds at the Burj Khalifa
In Downtown Dubai, The Burj Khalifa is one of the city's most iconic landmarks reaching around 2,720ft (830m) in height. You can start your day on a high by taking the lift to the observation deck on the 124th floor to look out across the city skyline. Mornings are often the best times to go because as the humidity rises outside, the city smog can obscure the view.
Barter for Gold in the Old Town Souks
If you enjoy a local shopping experience while you're away, the Old Town souks near Dubai Creek may be more your thing. Start by following your nose to the aromatic Spice Souk, then walk to the Gold Souk where glittering jewellery cascades down each shop window. Even if you're not looking to buy, the people watching at these markets is priceless with lively characters from around the world selling their wares and going about their day.
Explore Four Theme Parks in One at Dubai Parks and Resorts
In true Dubai style, Dubai Parks and Resorts isn't merely a theme park with a few rollercoasters. It's an enormous multiplex with high-speed rides, brightly coloured shows and characters from many make-believe worlds to meet. Bollywood Parks has recreated the streets of Mumbai, while Motiongate focuses on Hollywood films and animations, then, of course, there's Legoland and the Legoland waterpark.
Discover the History at Dubai Museum
Housed inside an 18th-century fort, this museum introduces a Dubai of the past. The exhibits may be low-key compared with other Dubai attractions - mock-up souks, a wooden dhow, photo and video displays - but it does have an intriguing insight into the area's maritime history. Pair your visit with a stroll around the cafés and craft shops of the Al Fahidi Historic District where downtown's noisy traffic seems far away.
Hit the Slopes - Really
Dubai has many unique experiences, but perhaps nothing as surreal as Ski Dubai's indoor alpine mountains. While the sun blazes in the sky, you can build a snowman, see a colony of penguins or take a chair lift up to one of five ski runs. If you're usually an avid skier in the French Alps, it's not going to compare. But there's definitely novelty value in getting fully togged-up and on the snow when it's 40 degrees outside.
Eat Dinner Surrounded by Desert Dunes
Alternatively, enjoy a rather more natural playground. Drive for less than an hour out of the city and you'll find yourself surrounded by burnt-orange sand dunes. Here, you can try sandboarding, quad-biking, dune bashing in a 4x4, and end your day with a traditional Arabic meal, shisha and a show. Staying overnight in a Bedouin tent gives you the chance to see the starry desert night skies and a sunrise surrounded by sand.
Book it: Royal Evening Desert Safari
Hit the Beach
Dubai's beaches have guaranteed sunshine, warm seas, and long stretches of hot sand, along with luxury additions like four-poster cabanas and waiter service. The top-end hotels often have a private beach club, which non-guests can use along with their swimming pools and bars for a fee. Otherwise, Kite Beach is a public beach known for kite-surfing, while the Beach JBR is both trendy and family-friendly with an inflatable assault course, lots of nearby restaurants and a market.